February 11, 2011, Studio No. 9, Famous Studios, Mahalaxmi, Mumbai. The atmosphere was dark. There were two men in boxing shorts in a fighting ring going at each other’s throats. There were around 400 people around the fighting ring, yelling at the top of their voices, urging the men inside the ring to kill each other. Not figuratively. Literally, ‘Kill him’.
They didn’t fit the profile of people who watched fights in India. There were no coaches, no bunch of rag-tag players waiting for their turn to enter the ring, no pot-bellied administrators and no fat-cat politician aka chief guest. This was a yuppie crowd come to watch Mumbai’s version of Fight Club. Six such bouts were held on that Saturday night. The fighters were students, or came from lower income middle-class families in Mumbai.
That was then. This is today. Prashant Kumar, founder of Full Contact Championship, a Mixed Martial Arts Club, that gets together such fighters from across the country is talking to us at a coffee shop in Prabhadevi. “Just like everything becomes a trend, MMA is a catching trend in India, we are getting participants from even the remote areas of India,” says Kumar. He’s organized 11 such events and this Friday, January 29 will be the 12th one since the inception of FCC in 2009. Kumar is an ad guy with his own agency and MMA has been a passion for him ever since he began freestyle fighting in the 1990s.
Kumar’s rationale was simple. It is pretty common in India to see a crowd of people gather around fights happening at railway stations and markets. You know the scene: Two people fighting, 200 people watching. FCC lets you do the same, except that there are international level MMA rules applied here. “Most of our fighters are medal winners at various levels, state, national and even international. Unfortunately media fails to cover the achievements of all these heroes FCC gives them a platform to get the attention they deserve along with decent money,” he says.
“We have started paying professional fighters about Rs. 30,000 to Rs. 50,000 and if the fighter is experienced and well known, it goes up to Rs. 1,00,000 per bout. And that’s not the end of it, our fighters also benefit from our fighter insurance policy, which is usually seen only at international clubs,” he says.
Across the world, MMA came into the public eye as a fitness regime after MMA fights and fighters became brand names in themselves. Fighters like Anderson Silva, Chuck Lidell and more recently Rhonda Rousey (of Entourage fame) captured people’s imaginations and people aspired to be like them. India bypassed all the MMA fighting and directly took to MMA fitness. Which is why we have a lot of gyms tom-tomming fighting as a way to get fit but no heroes to look up to.
“What we are trying to do is to create ICONS. If you were asked to pay to watch Mike Tyson, you know you would. Similarly, we are creating icons in our country. Why send them abroad when we can create a UFC level club here itself? We have been blessed to receive support from the media, fans and investors, and hopefully within 2-5 years, we will make it as successful as UFC,” says Kumar. UFC or Ultimate Fighting Championship is THE tournament in the world that fighters aspire to get in.
This tournament on Friday has eight bouts. It will take place at The Famous Studios in Mahalaxmi. Entry costs Rs. 999/-. Head out there to watch the blood spill, bones break and faces swell!